“What’s in a Name?” The Rose That Smells Less Sweet

The poet sang he’d never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
Whereat, some less poetic japer
Hacked it down to craft the paper
On which to read – but thus destroy-
This unique fountain of his joy.

From “All Shades of Green
Bertie Ramsbottom 2014

Juliet’s ill-fated admonition to Romeo – (“what’s in a name? that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”) has long set the criterion for the intimate language of true love.

Yet would it work for the wider exigencies of social and political relations? I fear not, on the evidence of much the most emotive and intransigent issue facing humanity – climate change and the fast-approaching threat to the very survivability of our planet and ourselves. Such is our human perversity (and poverty of language and commitment to match the need) that such issues cannot even currently contend with Brexits, Trumps and assorted political narcissists for a mention on front pages or in peak time.

What ignorance induced the guilt
On which our marketeers have built
Such parodies of what we know
We humans are, could be and owe?
On what naivety the telly
Ordained such primacy of belly?

What idiocy’s oiled our plunder,
Mixed little wisdom with our wonder?
Robbed ‘freedom’ of that saner stuff
Which knows ‘excessive’ from ‘enough’?
Let’s dream our dreams without the meanness
That mocks the greenhorn in our greenness?


There may be fresh hope, however, in a prospective name-change with the evocative flavour of a Shakespearian way with words! It actually comes with the surprising scientific credentials of the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London; and I’m grateful to reviewer Benjamin Kunkel for his insights, brilliantly presented in the London Review of Books (March 2017), of some key developments in climate-relevant geological thinking which seem to me mind-blowing in their implications and open up fresh insights and realistic potentials for action.

The naming of geological world eras is not the usual stuff of wide public interest and awareness outside scientific circles. The current incumbent (the Holocene) has low recognition despite the approximate 12,000 years of its relatively friendly, low-profile, reign.

Since the 1980s, however, a growing constituency has been slowly emerging for a re-naming of the current era which more directly reflects the heavy and obtrusive footprint of the human species; in Kunkel’s poignant phrase, “sapping the ecological basis of civilisation – and with no collective agency capable of reckoning with the fact…” Geologists, scholars and writers still contend about its date of birth, but a widening consensus has emerged that ‘Anthropocene’ (the Era of Human Kind) is the appropriate designation. This is a name change of massive potential significance. In “After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene” one of the books reviewed, its author – Jedediah Purdy– makes the case…

“The Anthropocene has to be named before people can try to take take responsibility for it… The ecological reality, once acknowledged, can become a political imperative. Not everyone is equally implicated in environmental degradation; as a rule, the poor are least to blame but suffer most. So the Anthropocene is a summons not only to ecological self-consciousness but to the radical redistribution of political power”.

This summons, however, towards a more realistic and politically mature context for the framing of a sustainable environmental regime, encapsulated in the Anthropocene name, is attracting criticism from advocates of Capitalocene as the more analytically correct, politically realistic and action-motivational term. The Anthropocene analytical error, they argue, is to present humanity as a ‘homogeneous acting unit’ through time, and so equally culpable; whereas it was a comparatively small group of “capitalists in a small corner of the Western world” who, in their sectarian pursuit of profits, invested in steam, laid the foundations of the fossil-burning economy; at no moment was the wider species allowed to exercise any sort of shared authority over its own destiny and that of the earth system. Nor, in the time since, has the species en bloc become “ecologically sovereign.” (Kunkel et al).

For the critics, then, there is no doubt that capitalism must be recognised as the overriding determinant of humanity’s recent ecological career if the present era of natural history is to be understood and meaningful action for survival and a more wholesome continuity taken. This, the counter argument goes, is why Capitalocene better captures the realities and urgencies of the hour.

So, what’s in a name?
Could it be the survival of our world and our better selves?
Stand by for more on this…

Not one more child to die of famine,
Dolphin of our filth he swam in,
Penguin from our oily spillage,
Jungle strangled by our pillage;
Not one more endangered species
Suffocating in our faeces:
They die bequeathing sad regards
To our rapacious credit cards;
To ‘choice’ that lives on borrowed worth
And debts, long underpaid to Earth.

All Shades of Green
Bertie Ramsbottom 2014